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Exclusive Interview With Gal Naor, CEO and Co-Founder, StorONE

"Today's storage solutions are inefficent and too expensive."
By Philippe Nicolas on 2017.12.05

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Who is Gal Naor?

He is:

  • CEO and co-founder of StorONE Ltd.
  • Board member at Mother's Choice

He was:

  • Board member at Baryohai
  • CEO and founder of Storwize (acquired by IBM in 2010 for $140 million)
  • Manager at QSS (acquired by Verint) What was the original idea of StorONE, founded in 2011?

Gal NaorWhen we started the company, we realized that the focus in the storage market was on singular features, rather than the big picture. Virtually all storage vendors, during the past decade have been building off of legacy methods and software, bringing new offerings to the market with primary focus on short development cycles. This forced them to a low level of innovation, as well as reliance on advancements in hardware technologies in order to solve issues in their solutions.

We see that despite amazing advancements in storage-related hardware (ultra-fast connectivity and SSDs), storage software requires users to dramatically overbuy hardware. You get ridiculous results like a full storage system that costs 100X more than a few low-cost SSDs that perform the same, e.g. a full storage system that yields a miserable 100,000 IO/s.

Customers ask themselves why they spend so much, but get such low results. The reason is that existing storage software is inefficient and not designed to cope with the challenges posed by the new era of storage-related hardware. This results in very low and inefficient utilization of the hardware components.

StorONE has raised around $20 million and you attracted famous board members (Edward Zander, former chairman and CEO of Motorola and president of Sun, John Thompson, chairman of the board at Microsoft and former chairman and CEO of Symantec), who are the company backers? But you will probably need to raise a new round to accelerate market visibility and geo expansion Any plan?
We did not announce the amount of funding that we received, but we believe we have enough money going forward. This is not our first company and we are very good at managing the operational aspects of our organization. 

We wanted to be different and if you notice, most storage vendors live in a broken ecosystem - they received very large amounts of funding, sell their products for outrageously high prices, but somehow, they are still losing money with no end in sight.

Why is this ecosystem broken?
The vendors are burning money, the customers pay a lot and the investors are losing money. All that's happening is you have a market that is way too expensive and inefficient. What can be more broken than that?

How did that happen?
The root cause for that is the inefficiency of today's storage solutions. Once you fix that, you see that you can sell for a reasonable cost, which makes customers happy, and at the same time you will be profitable for the company and its investors.

Don't you think the storage market is over-crowded by too many players? What is really different with StorONE?
StorONE's mission has been to build TRU - Total Resource Utilization: the first technology that delivers the full value of the underlying storage-related resources to the user. It uses software to solve the same storage challenges traditionally solved by adding more hardware, and is the aspect differentiating our company from all those other players.

TRU technology eliminates the storage bottlenecks and creates a huge difference for customers. Our storage software is intuitively simple, has exceptional performance, and is fully functional. This enables economic disruption, e.g. a solution that can be purchased for less than one cent per gigabyte.

Our difference is clear, dramatic, and does not require any explanation once the customer tries out our software.

What do you develop? Is it software or/and hardware? It took six years to develop your new offering? Is it too late or aligned with the current market climate? Software-defined dtorage (SDS) is now a reality offered by dozens of players.
We develop highly efficient enterprise class storage software that runs on commodity hardware, or as a virtual appliance on any off the shelf server and hypervisor.

Six years ago, it was already clear that connectivity and drives were accelerating while CPU technology was not making significant progress. We realized that this creates a new equation where software becomes the new bottleneck of storage systems.

Today our conclusion from six years ago is the reality of the entire storage industry, and we are the first company to offer a disruptive solution to this problem, which affects the entire spectrum of storage systems, from low-end to high-end.

Just saying that a solution is SDS doesn't make it efficient. In fact, many SDS solutions make customers waste a lot of money on under-utilized hardware. We are the first company to change that without compromising on performance, features, capacity utilization, data protection and retention, and the ability to run all protocols, mix different kinds of hardware (e.g. drives) and run any mix of workloads on the same system. And, as I mention, it is less than a penny.

 What are your top 5 differentiators?
The five top reasons customers will adopt our product are:

1. They get the best value offered by any storage vendor - customers get the full value of their hardware investment. Dramatically less hardware to achieve the same storage results as they have today. It’s very easy- less hardware leads to price reduction, less complexity, real estate, power and cooling and more. Add that to our flexible and customer-friendly software licensing models, and you get the best offer available today in the market.

2. All software functions are included so you don't have to manage multiple vendors and systems - all storage protocols can be on the same drives and for the same price, unlimited snapshots with no performance degradation, any type of drives and all workloads can be mixed on the same system.

3. Same software to use for high performance (AFA), virtual machine (HCI), virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), high capacity and data protection. There is no need to be trained on different storage solutions, be stuck with limited use cases or niche products. Our software beats the market leader in each of these segments.

4. Ease of use - the product is simple to set up and operate without special training. You can be up and running within 20 minutes. In 2018, there should be no need to read an user manual. The system has to be intuitive enough to be used by anyone with minimal understanding of storage, like a smartphone app.

5. No more vendor lock-in - you can use your existing hardware and if you need more speed, add a couple of SSDs. You are free to choose any hardware and benefit from new hardware innovation and cost reductions. Mix and match any drives.

We understand you maximize resources utilization and services thanks to your software. How do you develop that?
With innovation, insight, hard work, and patience.

Some details?
There is no silver bullet. Our solution is the result of six years of thorough research and development. The result is a series of inventions that cover many aspects of modern storage systems, which is reflected in our 50 + approved and pending patents.

The proof as they say is in the pudding. See the results for yourself. We offer multiple ways to easily POC our product.

As the founder and CEO of Storwize, do you embed any data reduction technique?
In our view - and I remember when I was the first to introduce this type of technology 12 years ago at my previous company Storwize - data reduction techniques such as deduplication and compression were new and cutting edge. Today they are table stakes. So, of course, we provide them. The difference is the way we do so does not impact performance. Most performance-focused storage vendors have a problem with data reduction techniques. They're inefficient. They suck up CPU, memory, and IO resources, slowing down performance and dramatically reducing efficiency. This is why many customers forget deduplication and compression, pay a lot for these features, or simply turn them off in production environments. Either way, these features, in their generic form, miss the goal of reducing cost.

What about data protection? Replication, Erasure-Coding/N+M, Geo-copy/DR/BC…?
We are very proud to provide data protection combined with high performance and efficiency while maintaining the full feature set required by enterprise storage customers. We provide a complete suite of data protection capabilities, and we are the first to offer all this at the volume level, so you can mix different data protection models within the same system. Not all data is created equal. Users should be able to apply the level of logical protection, for example transparent, unlimited data retention at the volume level, and physical device protection, such as with volume level N+K parity, based upon value of the data. This type of flexibility and level of protection is super-important for customers. Surprisingly, most vendors do not offer it due to technical difficulties. Again, we think results and we innovated in this aspect the same way that we did with other aspects of storage systems.

And for access methods?
Data is written as either block (FC, iSCSI), file (NFS and SMB), or object. It doesn't matter which standard interconnect interface or protocol, they're supported concurrently at no additional cost. Other less utilized but important storage protocols will be added as we expand into those markets. There is no need to install any driver or change any configuration on the application side.

Could you summarize the characteristics of your first release?
Enterprise-class high performance, high functionality, at a fraction of the cost. It's analogous to getting an iPhone X w/256GB for the cost of a used iPhone 4. We are the first to achieve this kind of storage software efficiency, at any price point, let alone at less than $0.01 a gigabyte.

Before you unveiled recently your product, you did a beta campaign. How users react with your new approach?
Disbelief, excitement and then amazement. Usually in that order. People were very excited about what we were telling them. Once we installed the system they were amazed at the high performance they attained using such low resources, that all the features they needed were included in a single software, and that it was so simple to set up and use. Our main challenge was to overwhelmingly convince the customer about the TRU J value of our technology. After customers hearing for so many years from industry leaders about what was possible vs. impossible, we witnessed healthy skepticism. Seeing the change of mindset was a truly remarkable experience for both the customers and us.

What are your use cases?
StorONE is not a niche solution. We can target virtually any use case, and specifically provide high performance, high capacity and high data protection, with the same software. We have customers using it as an alternative to the AFA technology without the need to buy so many drives and high power CPUs. Other customers have installed it as a hyper-converged storage solution with the ability to connect simultaneously from both physical and virtual environments. We see a lot of demand in the 200TB-1PB range with mid to high performance requirements. What do you do if you need 200,000 IO/ but also 100-200TB? AFA is possible, but unbelievably expensive. We really solve use cases of any type, from complex workloads such as OLTP, to VDI and analytics to low touch, low change rate data for archive. We have seen interest from every sector of the market. You name it, and we are talking to customers there. Even cloud providers are interested.

How do you support your customers?
The way they need to be supported. Around the clock, 365 days a year, We built the company from day one with StorONE offices in the US, EMEA and Asia that provide the highest level of support.

How do you price the product? Capacity, node, features…?
Simple subscription licensed per gigabyte, physical capacity. We have a customer first model and give all the features free.

What is your channel model?
We sell to our customers using whichever method they prefer. Direct, via trusted channels, partners and OEMs. And yes, we are selectively recruiting partners at this time.

What are your next steps next year?
We see a lot of demand in 2018. We feel IT organizations are tired of not being able to control their storage budgets and we listened and solved the really tough underlying problems of storage software efficiency. As a result, we expect 2018 to be an exciting year for StorONE. As far as our next steps (big smile) come talk to us in a few months. Based on the results we are getting after our first announcement, we are increasing our targets for 2018. We found that the market now will have a much better understanding of the true benefits of highly efficient storage software and what that means for cost, resource utilization and the power in terms of decision making it gives customers.